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Non-departmental Public Bodies

Volume 516: debated on Wednesday 20 October 2010

3. What recent progress has been made on his Department’s review of non-departmental public bodies. (18050)

13. What recent progress has been made on his Department’s review of non-departmental public bodies. (18060)

Last week I announced the first results of the Government’s review of quangos. This is a work in progress; the principal aim is to increase accountability. We believe that where the state carries out a function it should be accountable to a Minister or to a local council unless one of three rigorous tests is met. To pass, the function must be purely technical, tasked with measuring facts or figures, or plainly required to be politically impartial. We reviewed 901 bodies and intend that nearly 200 will cease to be NDPBs, and we will merge a further 118 and substantially reform a further 171.

Does the Minister agree that the review should include the misuse of public funds by quangos and public sector balance sheet organisations in paying lobbyists to brief against the Government or elected Members in the execution of their mandates?

Guidelines already limit the use of external consultants for those purposes, and we intend to tighten them further, because the public find it quite offensive that a quango should be spending taxpayers’ money on hiring external consultants to lobby the Government to encourage them to spend more taxpayers’ money.

Will the Minister tell the House how many quangos were created by the previous Government and, of those, how many will remain as a result of the changes that he is introducing?

As I said, we will reduce significantly the number of NDPBs. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) was bragging the other day about how many quangos he was planning to get rid of, but sadly the last Labour Government failed to act on their intentions.

Last week the Minister announced that many quangos would be done away with and their responsibilities transferred to third sector organisations. Will he assure the House and myself that those organisations, such as citizens advice bureaux, will be properly resourced so that they can provide people with specialised advice? Will he dispel the myth that this is being done on the cheap?

The aim of the quango review is not particularly to save costs or money—although it will—but principally to increase accountability. When functions are transferred, such as consumer advocacy functions to CABs, there will be a transfer of resources. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait a little longer to hear the extent of those resources.

Why does the Minister intend to disembowel the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Does he not believe that its responsibility to promote equality on behalf of women and ethnic minorities is important? Why is he reducing it to a purely regulatory body?

Many people felt that that body was not spending taxpayers’ money well. Its function is important and we concluded that it justified the EHRC continuing to exist as an independent body, but given that we are facing a situation in which, as the former Chief Secretary helpfully pointed out, there is no money left, significant savings have to be made. The EHRC will have to play its part in that.